A to B

Camp A and Camp B were now established. It was strange how they had both sprung up at the same time, but without being connected. Rumours said that neither had gone through the proper process, scared by rumours of burial grounds, which if identified would end all construction. But they’d kept the in-joke. A stood for Apparition, said Camp A’s residents; Camp B’s dwellers said that B stood for Banshee. How the hell had he ended up here, Antoine wondered? What had he done to deserve this? And then he remembered.

He was legally obliged to mention his conviction, which tended to make him less attractive to employers. There was no escaping the fact that twelve years ago he had killed his boss. The boss was a mean son-of-a-bitch who had started the fight, and their fight had been fair, but Antoine should have stopped when it was clear that the issue was settled – by his bosses’ teeth being broken, and his lying unconscious in a pool of blood on the floor. There really was no need to smash his skull in with a fire extinguisher. But Antoine had been driven to a point beyond reason, and that’s why he could now only find jobs on the edge of the wilderness – a place he would always inhabit.

Out here things could be different though. Here was a convicted killer wearing a shirt and tie, in his air-conditioned office-trailer, having meetings with respectable people. He was only employed two days a week by the Village, and had to make best use of that time. One day was for fieldwork, the other for meetings. Today he was exploring options for connecting Camp Apparition to Camp Banshee with the three main interest groups.

His assistant Laurence was great at prepping. He could rely on her entirely. He wondered if she knew about his conviction. He reckoned that she did, but never mentioned it. What a pro. He was very lucky to have her. Why a sassy girl like that worked out in the bush though, he had no idea. At 11am she said, “The Lucerne Valley Merchant’s Association is here. They look like a fun bunch. Watch the one with two moustaches.”

“The one with two moustaches” turned out to be the grocery store owner. Antoine couldn’t help smirking when he walked in; he had a regular moustache, and a monobrow. Two moustaches. He said, “Merchants want the most direct route possible. Twenty kilometres of new road is not going to come cheap. We see the need to connect the two camps and are supportive. But as the biggest taxpayers in town, we want value for money. So we say built it straight, and build it cheap. Don’t drown us in more taxes.”

After lunch Laurence said, “Lucerne Valley Families First are here. I’m not sure why, but they seem to have brought their pet caterpillars.”

A group of people with fat sideburns walked in, and Antoine smirked again. That girl needs to behave herself, he thought, or she’ll get me into trouble. But he wondered when this hirsute fashion had started; was this Valley’s heritage Middle-Eastern?

A hefty lady was their spokesperson. She said, “We would like the road to take the scenic route between the two camps. If you run straight between them, you cross swampland and flood zone. You also skirt bluffs where bears and cougars have been spotted. So for the safety of our children especially – they’ll be on their bikes, or walking – we want the road to stick to higher areas away from the swamps and bluffs.”

At teatime Laurence said, “The Lucerne Valley Developers are here. They are very keen birders. Habitat will be their main concern.”

A group of men with beards and wigs walked in. This time Antoine could not help laughing. They were surprised at first, then angry. “What is the meaning of this?” said their chairman. “Is this a business meeting or a clown show?”

“I’m sorry,” said Antoine. “My assistant told me a joke earlier. It was a killer.”

“Well, do share it with us,” said the leader. “We like a good joke too.”

“I’m sorry, it’s a personal joke.” I will kill that girl, he thought; but only in a nice way.

“We Developers would like to see a network of roads. Not just a straight stretch between two armpits. We need roads to spread through the area, to create access to new neighbourhoods. A road from Camp A to Camp B will not attract anyone. People prefer eyesores out of sight. But a complex network will induce demand. That’s capitalism at its best, creating something from nothing.”

When everyone had gone, Antoine and Laurence put their heads together. Both were history buffs. They brainstormed the many types of roads in antiquity – dirt-tracks, flint-covered, stone-paved, corduroy-timbered, timber trackways, clay-brick-paved, Persian Royal Roads, Roman straight roads, Arab paved roads, and roads besides rivers, along which materials were hauled by horse-drawn boats. They discussed some related structures including bridges, tunnels, supports, junctions, crossings, interchanges, and toll roads, and of course the continuous right-of-way required.

Antoine suggested that he and Laurence use a fieldwork day to walk the proposed routes. They found the straight route involved much bushwhacking. The scenic route was easier, largely following animal tracks. A network could follow natural breaks and contours. But none of them felt right to Antoine. Was there anything else?

As dusk approached, they fell onto a pine forest track. There was a full moon tonight so they continued walking. Mushrooms grew profusely, and owls were hooting; wisps of blue light appeared and disappeared; someone had hung coloured glass balls at intervals; they heard rustling and whispering, and felt shadows. They had found an ancient corpse road, where bodies were transported from the Village to forest burial grounds. The Apparitions and Banshees were lonely here; they were long forgotten. They liked to see the living, especially those who were close to death themselves. This man they knew had killed someone, and the woman was here to avenge her father. They were pleased that company would be arriving soon.


2 Responses to “A to B”

  1. Seems careless. I guess sometimes you just don’t have time to edit meticulously. For example:/—/
    Antoine wondered? means “did Antoine wonder?” Sometimes the indirect form is best: “Antoine wondered how he had ended up here.” Or you can put the thought and the question mark within quotation marks (not that I consider that the best solution)./—/
    bosses’ teeth. How many bosses? boss’s./—/
    He reckoned that she did, but never mentioned it. This could mean that he never mentioned it, or that he reckoned that she never mentioned it. /—/
    11am. A rather formal (business writing) way to express time in a story./—/
    Merchant’s Association. An Association of just one merchant. In fact it is an association of merchants rather than an association belonging to merchants, so the possessive is not necessary at all!

    • javedbabar Says:

      Yes I do not always have time to review more than once. All your comments welcome and appreciated!

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